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City may fight over-watering with citations

Satellite-controlled sprinklers, emphasis on native plants are also proposals to combat runoff.

January 11, 2007|By Alicia Robinson

Sprinkler systems that rely on satellites to tell them the weather before watering lawns could be the key to reducing urban runoff in Newport Beach, but the systems only work if homeowners use them.

So city officials might consider another step to stop people from over-watering: writing tickets.

A possible new rule giving Newport Beach code enforcement officers authority to cite homeowners is only one part of the city's plan to attack runoff. The first part is the new sprinkler controllers, which are being installed in Newport Coast.

The city began installing the controllers in 2006, starting with a pilot project for about 70 homes and expanding to offer them to 500 more homeowners in Newport Coast. So far there have been 250 requests for controllers, 185 of which have been fulfilled, said Bob Stein, an engineer in the city's public works department.

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Such programs are fairly new, but they're catching on, said Paula Sunde, a water conservation specialist with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The bureau provided a $300,000 grant to pay for weather-based controllers in Newport.

Newport officials may want to go further. Stein said homeowners outside of Newport Coast have asked about the controllers, but the City Council would have to find more money to pay for them. The city will try to work with home builders to get them to use the "smart" controllers in new homes, and a cooperative program with Roger's Gardens on how to use native plants that require less water is in the works.

In March, Stein plans to propose a first-of-its-kind ordinance under which homeowners could be cited if they don't respond to warnings about runoff they're generating.

"We felt that most people will say it's a good idea," Stein said of the sprinkler program. "It's not like it's going to be gestapo, telling people they have to water a certain way."

But the city does want to cut down on runoff to avoid polluting its beaches. Right now, about 25 million gallons of water a month come from Buck Gulley, Los Trancos Canyon and Muddy Creek during dry weather, and at least some of that is runoff from over-watering, according to a report Stein gave the City Council.

That water is diverted to Orange County Sanitation District facilities to be treated. Tom Meregillano, a sanitation district regulatory specialist, said right now there's adequate capacity to handle more runoff water, but Stein said whenever the district can't accept the runoff water, it goes straight to Newport's beaches.

Whether the council will want to spend more money or create tougher regulations to combat runoff remains to be seen, but either way the city is leading the pack in approaching runoff so aggressively, Stein said.

"We're kind of inventing this as we go along," he said.

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